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Pakistan ‘Essential Regional Partner’ to U.S.: William Todd

by Newsweek Pakistan

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Ambassador-designate stresses that Islamabad must take ‘irreversible’ action against terrorism

While acknowledging that Pakistan is an essential partner of the U.S. in the South Asian region, William Todd—the diplomat picked to serve as the next ambassador to Islamabad by President Donald Trump—told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that the country needed to take “irreversible” action against terrorism.

“Pakistan is an essential regional partner, and this is an opportune moment in our relationship to work together on shared goals. Peace in Afghanistan is in both our countries’ best interests, and effective U.S.-Pakistani cooperation is essential to achieve that objective,” he said during his confirmation hearing, adding that Islamabad had a vital role to play in supporting efforts toward a negotiated political settlement that ended 40 years of war in Afghanistan.

“This is a moment of opportunity for Pakistan to continue to forge a new and better role in the region and if confirmed will be one of my highest priorities,” he said.

Regional concerns

Despite this admission, Todd maintained the U.S.’ longstanding practice of urging Pakistan to “do more”—despite claims by Prime Minister Imran Khan this policy had come to an end due to his foreign policy. “To truly reduce regional tensions and rebuild a strong relationship with the United States, Pakistan must take sustained and irreversible action against terrorism,” he said.

Senator Bob Menendez, the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, took aim at the prevalence of terrorist groups in Pakistan and their impact on the region. He said “Pakistan must take further action to address this insidious threat, especially Lashkar-e-Taiba” and stressed that if “Pakistan wants us to take its counter-terrorism commitments seriously, it must completely eradicate this group.”

To this, the diplomat said that Pakistan has suffered terribly at the hands of terrorists and has committed publicly to ensure that terrorists cannot use its territory to operate. “If confirmed, I will work with Pakistan to advance our shared interest in eliminating terrorism from its territory and advancing security in the region,” he said, adding that he would also engage with Islamabad on strategic stability and non-proliferation. “Pakistan needs to demonstrate that it is prepared to live up to international commitments on weapons of mass destruction,” he said.

The India problem

Todd said he believed the U.S. could have a strong relationship with both India and Pakistan. “Our hope is that both countries will take the necessary steps to reduce tensions, and as President Trump has offered, we are prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it,” he said. “In terms of regional dynamics, although we have a strong relationship with India, that does not need to come at the expense of Pakistan. I believe that under the right conditions, we can have a strong relationship with both countries,” he said, adding that Washington was prepared to facilitate dialogue if both sides request it.

Human rights

The U.S. diplomat told the sitting senators that his first goal if confirmed as ambassador to Pakistan would be advancing human rights, particularly freedom of religion and expression. “I was shocked and heartbroken that U.S. citizen Tahir Naseem was killed in a Pakistani courtroom in which he was facing an accusation of blasphemy. I grieve with the family of Naseem and if confirmed, will engage Pakistani authorities on full accountability for the perpetrators,” he said.

He said he would also engage on the matter of restrictions on civil society. “I am also concerned about the increasing restrictions on the civil society, including the growing harassment and disappearances of journalists without accountability, which undermines the exercise of the right of peaceful assembly and freedoms of expression and association,” he said.

Trade and investment

Todd said the U.S. needed to increase bilateral trade and investment with Pakistan. “Making progress on youth engagement, trade and investment, and human rights will be challenging, but necessary for a better future for Pakistan, and a stronger U.S.-Pakistan relationship,” he said.

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